A Story for My Father

Eileen W. Fisher

© Copyright 2019 by Eileen W. Fisher


Photo of Eileen's father.
My father always wanted to be a writer, but that was not practical. By the time I was in fourth grade, I decided that I was going to fulfill his dream.

My mother called him Natie, he called himself Nat; his nickname was Nissel. I called him Daddy.

My father, Nathaniel came over from Russia in 1913 with his parents, Yitzchak and Sarah, and his three siblings. He was ten years old. His older brother, Charles, was fourteen, their sister Basia, eleven, and the youngest, Max, was eight. They owned a glass and mirror shop in Harlem. Only Charles had the opportunity to go to college; he became a pharmacist. My father was expected to go to work after high school, and help support the family. He became a carpenter. In an early professional photograph, my Dad poses proudly in a pair of carpenter overalls, holding a yardstick in one hand.

But he never forgot his dream of becoming a writer.

My father signed up for evening classes in English composition at City College, but with regret in his voice, he would tell me, “I was too tired after a day’s work to do the homework. The professors were honest with me. They told me that unless I did the homework, I wouldn’t get much out of the classes.” Invariably, he would drop out —it was a story that I heard often.

But my Dad’s love of language and writing is his legacy to me. Writing always remained an important part of my father’s life.

His most prized possession was the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary which he kept behind glass on the first shelf of the dark mahogany secretary. My father was a soft-spoken man, and it was through words in the love poems that he wrote to my mother for her birthday that he could express what he couldn’t say in every day conversation. And he wrote long, flowery invocations for the monthly Cousins’ Club which he proudly read at the beginning of each meeting.

Even his penmanship was a minor work of art. My dad wrote with a flourish – small, carefully rounded letters, with each capital letter embellished with fancy curlicues. He favored well sharpened Eberhard-Faber No. 2 pencils. When I was unable to master cursive writing, my Dad sat patiently with me at the kitchen table while I wrote page after page of circles and slanted lines until I was able to write legibly.

I regret that my Dad never wrote down the bedtime stories he made up for me — stories about Bobby, the policeman, who was always finding lost children, or rescuing them from some impending danger! In fourth grade, I made up stories for our class newsletter about Inky, the pup. It was when I saw my name in print that I decided that I would become a newspaper reporter and fulfill my father’s dream. I read and reread the only book in the library on the topic, “So You Want to Be a Reporter.”
But life got in the way. Having lived through the depression, my parents were concerned that I should be able to earn a steady paycheck. And, by pursuing a career in journalism, it was far from clear that this would be the case. My parents urged me to become a teacher like several of my cousins. My father tried to reassure me that I would still have time to write – I could teach during the year and write during the summers. Having always been interested in working with intellectually disabled children, I pursued a career in special education. I loved my work, and though I thought about missed opportunities, I felt that I had made the right choice.

Quite by chance however, when I was in my mid-fifties my desire to write was once again triggered by a request from a colleague to edit her poetry. I began to write stories; some autographical, some not. As did my father, I found through the written word a vehicle for expressing my thoughts and emotions. Now, it is my children who urge me to write down the stories about my family and childhood. These memoirs will be part of my legacy to them.

Today the dark mahogany secretary stands in my living room and the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary sits on a shelf in my bookcase. And although it is fragile, I still turn to dictionary when looking for just the right word!

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